Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?

Blog STD

Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?

written by Shannon Chapman Written by Shannon Chapman
Shannon Chapman

Shannon Chapman

Shannon enjoys breaking down technical subjects and giving others the tools to make informed decisions. Her interests include behavioral economics, sustainable living, meditation, and healthy cooking.

Read more posts by this author.

January 14, 2021 Read Time - 9 minutes

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap or the drip, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has gonorrhea.

Can you get gonorrhea from kissing? No. Gonorrhea is spread through semen and vaginal fluids but it can infect the eyes, mouth, and throat in addition to the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and anus.

Both the infection and slang for it has been around since the 1500s and there are many theories as to the origin of the slang terms: the clap and the drip.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Why is it Called the Clap?

Gonorrhea has been called the clap for potentially hundreds of years. Slang terms for STDs are often common due to the social stigma around talking about them. Many other slang terms exist for other STDs such as chlamydia (the clam), AIDS (Hi-Five), pubic lice (crabs), etc. These are usually based on the name of the disease itself or on an iconic aspect of the disease.

Gonorrhea is unique in that the slang term, the clap, does not have a known origin. However, there are a few interesting theories as to how the term came to exist.

  • The origin could come from old English. The word “clappan” was used to describe a beating or throbbing. This could refer to the painful, burning urination or swelling in the penis or vagina caused by gonorrhea.
  • A number of people believe that the name stems from a proposed treatment during medieval times of “clapping” the penis or slamming the penis between both hands (or a hard surface) to get rid of the discharge/pus and thus the infection. This theory has most likely gained popularity due to the treatment’s gruesome nature.
  • In the 1500’s, “clapier” was an old French word for brothel. The use of the clap then would have referred to the location where the disease most easily spread: brothels. In French, the disease then became known as “clapier bubo” meaning an infection of the penis resulting from a visit to a brothel.

There are also a few theories that come from more modern times. During the early 1900’s, GIs often were infected with gonorrhea during the World Wars. It was sometimes said that they had “the collapse,” which was shortened and transformed into the clap. A 1918 Medical journal is cited as referring to “gonorrhea clap” as well as calling it the “running range,” but does not describe why the name exists.

Read: How to Get Tested for STDs: A Helpful Guide

Why is Gonorrhea Called the Drip?

Gonorrhea is also sometimes called the drip. This slang term is much less common than its counterpart, the clap, and refers to the most common symptom of gonorrhea: the discharge of pus from the penis or vagina.

Similarly, the drip may be a reference to a symptom of gonorrhea. Discharge is a very common symptom of both gonorrhea and other STDs, particularly chlamydia. This often leads to confusion between the two STDs leaving many to wonder, is chlamydia the clap? And, what STD is the clap? 

The clap refers exclusively to gonorrhea. However, given their similar symptoms and that the two STDs can happen simultaneously, it is clear why there is confusion.

Recognizing the Symptoms of the Clap

Sometimes someone with the clap does not show any symptoms. It is unclear how common this is, with some estimates ranging from 10% to over 50%. Symptoms of the clap may appear within one or two weeks after having sex with an infected person. Even with no symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the disease and damage the reproductive system.

There are some differences in how gonorrhea presents in men vs women, but in general the most common reported symptoms in both men and women are:

  • Gonorrhea discharge – For women and men, this includes abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis that may be green, yellow, or white.
  • Burning sensation while urinating – Also called dysuria, this symptom is common with other STDs and is an important sign to get tested.
  • Painful, burning and swollen glands in throat – This is a very common sign of a gonorrhea infection from oral sex.

Women may also have painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex, abdominal pain, or a fever. Men may have less common symptoms such as swelling or pain in either or both testicles.

The clap can also infect one or both eyes causing discharge, conjunctivitis (itchy, red eyes), or sensitivity to light. Gonorrhea may also spread or infect the anus causing discharge, bleeding, and rectal pain.

Read: Gonorrhea In Throat, Mouth or Eyes

How to Diagnose the Clap STD

Gonorrhea can be diagnosed by several different laboratory tests. Doctors can either use a urine sample to test for the bacteria or a cotton swab from the infected area.

The gonorrhea test most often uses a swab from the cervix for women and the urethra for men, but can also include a swab of the anus or other potentially infected areas. This swab is used for a culture or antigen for testing, both of which can identify if gonorrhea is present.

A doctor may also conduct a physical exam to examine symptoms and check for other STDs. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are very similar, so it is important to test for both to ensure you receive the right treatment. 

In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may ask:

  • How often do you have unprotected sex?
  • Do you have a new partner or multiple sexual partners?
  • Do you exhibit any symptoms like discharge, pelvic pain, or pain when urinating?

These questions are used to determine if you have an STD. 

Getting tested for an STD can be scary and intimidating but remember, you are taking charge of your health and can get treatment if you are infected. 

Read: What to Do If You Think You Have an STD

How to Treat the Clap

Many people want to know how you can get rid of the infection. Since gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, gonorrhea treatment is a regimen of oral antibiotics.

Some strains of gonorrhea in the US have become antibiotic resistant, referred to as “super gonorrhea.” In these instances, a medical physician will decide on the best course of antibiotics such as:

  • Ceftriaxone
  • Cefixime
  • Doxycycline
  • Azithromycin

According to the CDC, “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time. Each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and more than 35,000 people die.”

How long can you carry gonorrhea?

Antibiotics typically clear a gonorrhea infection after one to two weeks. Keep in mind, you should not stop taking the antibiotics prescribed to you until the recommended course of treatment has completely finished. Even if you are relieved of your symptoms, stopping your treatment earlier may allow for the resurgence of bacteria and their development of resistance to the antibiotics. In these instances, the medication will no longer be effective.

Additionally, since antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are already common, if your symptoms continue after a few days of taking antibiotics, consult your doctor. They may switch you to a different strain of antibiotics.

Is Gonorrhea Curable? 

Yes, gonorrhea can be cured by taking the appropriate medication as directed. However, repeat infections of gonorrhea are common. You and your sexual partner(s) should always be tested in three months of completing antibiotic treatment, especially if you are unsure whether your partner(s) received treatment.

You and your sexual partner(s) should not have sex until treatment is complete. You also should wait at least one week after completing a prescribed single dose medication. In some cases, the infection may still be present after the course of antibiotics is complete, so make sure to wait until you and your partner(s) are certain the disease is no longer present.

Side Effects of the Clap

Because gonorrhea may have no symptoms, some people go untreated. Even with those who have symptoms, stigma, access, and other reasons get in the way of receiving medical attention.

Can gonorrhea cure itself? Not receiving prompt and proper treatment for the clap can create serious health problems. If you suspect you or your partner may have a STD, you should get tested immediately to avoid these side effects:

  • Infertility
  • Chronic pain,
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Blood or joint infection
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


How to Prevent the STD the Clap

If you are sexually active, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of contracting gonorrhea:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners – Have yourself and your partner get tested before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex. This may be easier to do with fewer partners, The more partners you have at any given time, the more likelihood of contracting gonorrhea or any other STD.
  • Can you get gonorrhea from kissing? No, someone with gonorrhea cannot pass it along via kissing.
  • Use condoms – Use condoms as directed every time you engage in sexual activity to reduce the risk of STDs. Keep in mind, condoms are not 100% effective.
  • Get tested regularly – Since having a history of STDs increases your likelihood of contracting another, getting tested regularly helps limit exposure.
  • Avoid douching – Douche or douching refers to washing out the vagina either with an at-home mix of water and vinegar or using a purchased product that can include antiseptics and fragrances. Between 20% and 40% of women aged 15 to 44 in the US use a douche and believe it helps clean and freshen their vagina as well as avoid getting a STD or pregnancy. Health experts agree that douching is both not effective and increases your risk of a STD or other health problems .

If you experience any symptoms of gonorrhea or suspect you may have a STD, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms, sexually active persons should be tested regularly so as to avoid  unknowingly spreading the disease.

How PlushCare Can Help

Think you have gonorrhea or another STD? Book a virtual appointment with a top PlushCare doctor today. They can help you get the proper STD testing done and your lab results will be sent electronically to your PlushCare doctor who will reach out to you with a treatment plan including oral antibiotics. 

The average appointment lasts just 15 minutes! Book now.

Appointments as low as $20.

Use our cost checker to see what you'll pay

Check My Cost

Read More About Gonorrhea


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance. Accessed on November 6, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic Resistant Gonorrhea. Accessed on August 8, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/arg/default.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed December 17, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm#:~:text=Most%20of%20the%20time%2C%20urine,(opening%20to%20the%20womb).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonococcal Infections. Accessed December 17, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/ 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just Diagnosed? Next Steps After Testing Positive for Gonorrhea or Chlamydia. Accessed December 17, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/NextStepsGonorrheaOrChlamydia.htm

Mayo Clinic. Gonorrhea. Accessed on November 6, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

Our commitment to you.

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

  • right Tick Image

    Research from sources you can trust

  • right Tick Image

    Medical reviews by field experts

  • right Tick Image

    Frequent content updates

More to learn.